Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Libraries ...

.. the second in an occasional series. 

This library was designed in 1938 in the Rococo Revival style by Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wills for Sir Alfred Beit at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens. Sir Alfred had bought the house in 1930 as a setting for his late father's collection of pictures, bronzes and majolica - a collection begun in the 1890s by his father's brother, also named Alfred, from whom it was inherited. The painting  by William Orpen below shows the father, Sir Otto Beit, in his study. 

"The library was the most fanciful of the rooms, as essay in Bavarian or Austrian Rococo, which greatly appealed to Sir Alfred and was chosen here to set off his recent purchase of Jacque de Lajoue's A Cabinet of Scientific Curiosities. But what is so curious is that Sir Alfred had the chimneypiece copied from a Country Life photograph of one in the dining room at Russborough, Ireland, which was published in 1937."

The collection augmented by the second Alfred, Sir Alfred, held about 150 paintings. On the list in the 1913 catalog published about the collection were to be found Vermeer's Letter Writer, "...a pair of Metus, and pictures by Jan Steen, Ruysdael, Hobbema and Teniers and remarkable Spanish artists, including Velazquez, as well as the Murillos and Goya ..."

A remarkable collection, indeed, and after Sir Alfred and his wife had lived in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s he saw an advertisement for Russborough, bought the house and took the collection with him. As of the year 2000 the collection remained in the house as did the widow of Sir Alfred. 

I will come back to 15 Kensington Palace Gardens soon because there are connections with John Fowler and Sibyl Colefax - Fowler not as known at this time as he was after the Second World War. The colors as described by John Cornforth the author of the book London Interiors: From the Archives of Country Life are of their time and  worth noting. The quotations I have made are from the book.

Russborough is now a country house museum that may be toured, and which contains some of Sir Alfred Beit's collection. According to the website for the house a substantial number of paintings were returned in 2008 from storage at the National Gallery of Ireland.


  1. Often the library is the first thing to be sold off from those old houses, so it is indeed remarkable (and a deliciously delightful thought) that it may very well still be together today.

  2. I sincerely hope it is. I have my own library of design and architecture books and though I look at it with great pride I know it's continued existence is not assured and is as fragile as civilization.